Information The Land Rover
— a myriad of faces

Introduced in 1948 as an alternative to the light tractor, the Land Rover has been put to a myriad of uses over the years — not least of these was its role of fire tender.

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Left-hand drive Land-Rover 9656 IP pictured at Kilbeggan — 6th October 1990
Above: Westmeath Fire Service long-wheelbase Land-Rover at Kilbeggan — 6th October 1990

Below: A beautifully presented Kilkenny Fire Service short wheelbase Land-Rover at Marino Fire Brigade Training Centre — 18th June 1988

Few vehicles are recognised the world over as readily as the Land-Rover – so much so that its name has achieved the enviable distinction of becoming one of those generic titles popularly applied to almost any four-wheel drive vehicle. But its humble beginnings were a far cry from the fame it later achieved so deservedly.

The British motor industry spent much of the late 1940s trying to cope with materials shortages, a dearth of machine tools and Government demands to export. One of the many companies affected was Rover, which fortuitously stumbled on a stopgap vehicle to restore its fortunes and keep its skilled workforce employed. The story is brilliantly told in “Land-Rover — The Unbeatable 4 x 4” written by Ken and Julie Slavin and George Mackie — and to which I am indebted for a wealth of information.

Maurice Wilks of Landrover owned an ex-military Jeep, which he found very useful on his farm. He discovered that there was no alternative vehicle available that could satisfy the many requirements a farmer demanded of an off-road vehicle: “a glaring gap in the market not a tractor but something much more versatile, rugged without being too cumbersome” and so the concept was born. The vehicle could be developed and produced fairly quickly with the equipment then available to the Rover Company. An enthusiastic design team was created (I almost wrote assembled) and beavered away empirically to build this seemingly ideal vehicle as quickly as possible.

Unveiled officially amid considerable apprehension at the Amsterdam motor show in April 1948 as “a go-anywhere vehicle a portable source of power, and an alternative to the light tractor”, the Land-Rover was soon adapted to a myriad of purposes. More versatile than the Jeep, it could be used as a power source, was “able to drive things”, could have power take-offs everywhere, bristle with bolt-on accessories — and could be used instead of a tractor at times. The motoring press and the general public were delighted with the new vehicle — but probably had little foresight of the success it was to attain. It didn't just take off — it soared.

Within a very short time, the Land-Rover was being used for almost every conceivable type of work, both on and off the road. It appealed to industry and agriculture alike and was warmly embraced by the public utilities. Armies found it particularly suitable for their needs and it was soon to be found in military service in numerous countries. An especially prestigious role for the Land-Rover was with expeditions of various types by which it was used in the most hostile and gruelling adventures — and which its makers used to great advantage in advertising campaigns.

From an early date, the advantages of the Land-Rover were obvious. It was especially useful in rural brigades, where its cross-country capabilities could get fire-fighters to a remote blaze in an isolated farmhouse or a gorse fire on a mountain very quickly. Nor was its use confined to country areas, many large urban Brigades using the Land-Rover to support bigger appliances or as specialist vehicles. Land-Rovers found another niche with industrial brigades, often serving as towing vehicles for trailer pumps.

Aware of the vehicle's wide appeal for fire duties but not having the expertise they considered essential to build Land-Rover fire appliances, the company decided to appoint an approved builder. The firm selected was Carmichaels of Worcester, highly respected in fire-fighting circles. Land-Rover fire appliances from Carmichaels - and other builders - were very successful and won a special place in Ireland, where they became the backbone of several county fire fleets for several decades.

Although Landrover fire tenders towing trailer pumps were widely used, self-contained units with on-board pumps, first aid water tanks and other equipment were limited to, at best, a three-man crew. This problem was solved in 1962 when a forward-control version (driver beside the engine) was introduced, allowing the provision of a second, bench seat.

One day in August this year, a visitor to the museum offered us a Land-Rover fire appliance for which he was trying to find a good home. The vehicle would have to be moved quickly because the ground on which it was parked was about to become a building site. The necessary paper work was therefore expedited and less than two weeks after the initial offer, the vehicle arrived in Howth and this scribe immediately took to the regularly trodden path of research.

I had seen this particular vehicle, registered 9656 IP, twice before. The first time was at a Fire Service Rally in Kilbeggan in October 1990, when I had been intrigued by its combination of forward control, left-hand drive and yellow Civil Defence livery. My second encounter was at Kill Avenue Fire Station in Dun Laoghaire in May 1995, when it was still in yellow. Shortly afterwards, it was acquired by Mr. Chris Watson of Dalkey, who painted 9656 IP red and eventually presented it to the museum.

Research so far has established that this Land-Rover is probably a Carmichael Redwing FT6, built for service on a Royal Air Force airbase in Germany around 1963 and in time sold out of service. It was re-registered in Kilkenny on 7th March 1979 by Avonmore Creameries and used for fire cover at the company's Ballyraggett plant. Following withdrawal by Avonmore it went to Bray Civil Defence in July 1989 and was finally taken out of service on 9th October 1996, then passing to Chris Watson.

This fascinating fire appliance is a very welcome addition to the museum collection and, unusually for a petrol-engined vehicle coming into our collection, it arrived in good running order. Further research remains to be done into its early history and it will be stored until our plans for an expanded and themed display come into being. Meanwhile, following a protocol now being applied to the information panel accompanying every vehicle on display, social history takes priority, with technical details gathered together in a final paragraph. What been so far verified of the Land-Rover's specification reads as follows:

Chassis No. 25407790B. Four-cylinder petrol engine: bore 3.56ins. (90.47mm), stroke 3.5 ins (88.9mm), swept volume 2.286 litres; 64bhp at 4,000 rpm. Single dry plate clutch, four-speed synchromesh gearbox, four-wheel drive. Hypoid spiral bevel fully floating axles. Hydraulic brakes, 12 volt electrics. Tyres 7.50 x 16. Coventry Climax Godiva pump, 100-gallon water tank.

Above: Former Northern Ireland Fire Brigade forward control Land-Rover at Harrogate following Trans-Pennine Run — 7th August 1994. At least three from the same batch survive, including the one on display in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra.
Arrival of 9656 IP in Howth — 29th August 2001
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